Friday, August 1, 2008

Michael in New Orleans

Jazz Fest Musings
Just Another Day
“Michael…come down and talk to me”. Up ahead a member of New Orleans finest is calling up to a second floor balcony, gun drawn and held behind his back. Quietly in the hood, the streets are blocked by flashing blue moonbeams, no sirens, as Michael pokes his head out and says something soft and incoherent. Michael has closely cropped hair, a gaunt composure and blood running down his arm. I’ve just picked up a sandwich and I’m headed back to work. I check to make sure my van isn’t in the line of fire and redirect my steps to avoid Michael, the cops and any drama that might be going down. Here comes Michael’s landlord rushing down the street waving the keys like he’s ringing a bell; I’m sure that he’s only trying to avoid his door being kicked in, it doesn’t appear that anyone really gives a shit about Michael but the man in blue with the gun.
But, you know, that’s the way it is in the city. Lovers walk connected at the hip, taxis prowl the Rue Dumaine looking for fares, a drunk stumbles into the glaring sunlight and Michael’s situation is unfolding around him like a urine stain on the fabric of his life.
One of the things that I don’t like about the nowadays of my life is the apparent necessity of making sure that I have one eye on the road and the other eye looking over my shoulder, almost sure that trouble will sneak up on me unless I stay alert. There was a time when I could be slow and stupid and breeze along immune to negative happenstance, blissfully ignorant and comfortably numb in a cloud of naiveté. Then again, at that time I rarely read newspapers, didn’t worry about a job, rent or where my next meal was coming from. All of that seemed to be taking care of itself; it seemed like all I had to do was ‘do my thing’ and the universe took care of the details. Cool, huh? I mean, I did work, I paid rent and was definitely not malnourished, the point is that at one time I didn’t think about those things being so strenuous.
Back… thirty- five years ago or so… I had a man come to me for a job and flat out told me that he wouldn’t work for less than $4.50 an hour. Of course we were paying that, four-fifty was the coin of the realm going rate for any reputable house of employment. Why do I mention this seemingly worthless piece of information? It’s not just another ‘when I was younger’ tale, it is a point of reference as to what is making life difficult here.
Back when I was paying cooks in my employ less than what minimum wage is now, a person could live on four frigging fifty an hour! AND my point is that three and a half decades later the cost of living has not kept in line with the average wage being paid. Even at three times the wages (which is lower than the norm) the cost of keeping my head above water (no pun intended) is tenfold what it was. And that, my friend bites the big one. In a manner of speaking, when someone tells you: “you’re doing a fine job, whatever they’re paying you is not enough” they couldn’t be closer to the truth than if they said: “ a snake’s belt slips because he has no hips” but that’s neither here nor there. Face it, Buddy: you’re sweating your cajones off while the fat cat still skims the cream from the top of the pitcher. And it is not that the cost of living has gone up, the fact is you’re not getting paid enough to cover that expense.
I think about that when I hit the ticket booth of the Jazz Fest. Usually with a “the price is WHAT???” And then I turn into my parents with the ‘I remember when blah blah blah and phone calls were only a nickel blah blah and who’s getting all that money and why can’t I bring my own sandwich etceteras’.
Yes, it is going to cost me at least a hundred dollars a day if I’m going to have my kind of fun at the Fair Grounds. No shit, I don’t come cheap and I intend to have big fun spending money I don’t make on the best time of year that anyone with warm blood in their veins could have in this city. And I know that there are lots of folks that the Fest is just not for ---and that’s good… for them.
But, you know what? I’m going to go out every day that I can! That’s right, cash in the chips, raid the piggy bank and to hell with the housework… I’m going to the Fest!!! And unlike most everything else in this crazy life of ours, it’s going to be worth every penny that I’m parting with!
I know that in years past that I’ve written about The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in terms of what to wear, who to hear, how to avoid the crowd and still find a reasonably clean rest room in my thousand word missives. Not so this season I’m not. So? This is this ‘what up’ for this year:
The Jazz Fest is probably the best time in your otherwise stressful life that you are going to have and still remain vertical. The food, the music, the people, and the atmosphere continues to rock me, every year, since I was paying line cooking dogs four-fifty an hour.
You know, you walk through those gates, the world outside goes away and you (at least I do) forget for eight hours all the other stuff that I have to do and not once look back over my shoulder unless it’s to catch another glimpse of some hot number who’s mama let her get out of the house wearing that outfit.
In what has become my personal tradition, this year I’ll raise my first beer and wish a good god bless to everyone that can’t quite make it, where ever they may be. And one for Michael.

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